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Juicing with Bitter Melon

I’m really excited because I have been invited by Williams-Sonoma to participate in their Juice Week! My mission was to share a recipe of a juice that “bites back” or contains a wild ingredient. What better ingredient to fulfill this mission than the enigmatic bitter melon?

I enlisted my Mom’s help with this since she juices regularly. Her recipes vary, but all of them have four basic ingredients: carrot, celery, cucumber and granny smith apple. She adds lemon and ginger for a nice punch. Ginger in itself is a wild ingredient that adds a spicy kick to any juice! All we did was add one bitter melon to the mix.

Juicing Bitter Melon

Basically Bitter Juice

Juice together the following ingredients:

1 bitter melon, de-seeded*
1 large cucumber
1 large carrot
1 Granny Smith apple
3 celery stalks
1/2 lemon with rind but remove the seeds
Ginger, to taste

*To remove the seeds from bitter melon, slice it in half, lengthwise, and then use a teaspoon to scoop out the seeds and membranes, leaving only the tough green skin.

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Here is what the juice looks like! The hue actually fluctuates between green and orange, depending on how everything is settled and the lighting. As for how it tastes, the apple is enough to give this juice a sweetness and offset some of the bitterness, and the spiciness of the ginger can be felt in the throat.

Although this recipe includes bitter melon, the bitterness is not at all an overpowering flavor. Everything melds together nicely in this combination. The addition of a second bitter melon will definitely add that punch, but it’s still not super overpowering. I love this about bitter melon: it plays well with others. Even when cooked with other vegetables or meats, it doesn’t contaminate the dish with its flavor.

The great thing about juicing is that you can get any combination of ingredients and use how much or how little of each one that you like. There’s no science or precision when my mom juices. This might be scary to some, but if you’re making the effort to juice at home, then take the opportunity to test out ingredients and measurements to develop “your” juice.

Our juicer is the Breville Juice Fountain Plus. After tying out other juicers, including a Vitamix, we found this one to be our favorite everyday juicer. It hasn’t let us down and I recommend it for its quality and cost compared to other juicers. It’s all up to your personal preference – and Williams-Sonoma has a great selection to choose from.

If you’re ever curious about bitter melon, you should be able to find them at Asian grocery stores. In the Chicago area, I recommend Tai Nam on Broadway or any of the grocery stores on Devon Ave. They are of great quality in the summertime since they are in season!

What crazy ingredients do you add to your juice? Let us know in the comments! –Melissa

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Summer Favorite: Bitter Melon (Ampalaya)

It never truly feels like summer until we can start harvesting the veggies from my dad’s garden. I feel so lucky that we always had the freshest vegetables in the summer and even luckier that we had “weird” veggies like eggplant and long green beans along with the typical tomatoes.

I got really excited yesterday when I spotted freshly picked bitter melon or ampalaya in my mom and dad’s kitchen:

Bitter Melon

Not everyone is a fan of bitter melon because it’s, well, bitter. But there are lots of different ways to prepare it which equals a lot of chances for you to acquire a taste for it. One of the things I would like to try is adding it to juice recipes. It’ll kick the flavor up a notch!

Many people believe that bitter melon has health benefits, but there are also some things to consider if you have the desire to go on a bitter melon binge. Note that while it is supposed to help with diabetes, it can also interact with diabetes medication. And one of the things that I was always told is that it’s supposed to help alleviate those pesky cramps that ladies get, but this also means that it is somewhat of a blood thinner.

Here are two bitter melon recipes that reflect its versatility!

Bitter Melon Salad – This is a raw recipe that I usually make with tomato and onion, but I also modify it by using strawberry in place of tomato which results in a playful mixture of bitter and sweet flavors.

Bitter Melon Salad

Stuffed Bitter Melon – I am still so proud of this recipe! The bitter melon is stuffed with soy curls mixed with Asian and spicy flavors and then baked.

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What are your thoughts on bitter melon? Let us know in the comments! -Melissa

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Bitter Melon with Tofu and Fermented Black Beans

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We were lucky enough to have pleasant weather for the first couple weeks of October, but things got downright chilly last week. Dad started cleaning up the garden and collected the last of the veggies. Bitter melon, or ampalaya, was included in the mix, and Mom cooked it up, vegan-style!

We have blogged about bitter melon before, and here’s another recipe for the adventurous among us. My mom usually makes this dish using steak or roast beef, but decided to substitute tofu instead. Yay! The tofu helped to offset some of the bitterness and the fermented black beans bring both a sweetness and saltiness to the dish.

Ampalaya (Bitter Melon) with Tofu and Fermented Black Beans

1 bitter melon
1 block tofu, pressed and cut into bite-sized cubes
1/2 cup fermented black beans (you can find these at Asian markets)
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt or soy sauce, to taste

1. Slice the bitter melon in half, lengthwise, and scoop out the innards. Then, slice the halves into about 1/4 inch pieces.

2. Heat up a pan and add your favorite vegetable oil (I like safflower or canola).

3. Throw in the onion and garlic and cook until they’re fragrant and the onion is translucent.

4. Toss in the bitter melon, lower heat, and cover. Let it cook for 2-3 minutes, checking to make sure that the bitter melon doesn’t stick.

5. Add the tofu and beans to the pot. Gently mix everything together. Allow it to cook, covered, for another 5 minutes or so.

6. Add some salt or soy sauce to taste and remove from heat.

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This dish is best served with jasmine rice or brown rice.

Yay, weird veggies! –Melissa

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Stuffed Bitter Melon (Ampalaya)

This dish originated from a craving for soy curl BBQ, believe it or not. One thought led to another, and next thing I knew, I was grabbing a bitter melon or ampalaya from the fridge and getting to work. I’ve eaten a lot of ampalaya and I’ve eaten it in many, many ways, but I’ve never had it like this.

I made this using one relatively small (6-7 inches) bitter melon, so adjust the recipe measurements as needed if you have lots of melons.

Stuffed Bitter Melon

1 bitter melon
1 cup soy curls (I use Butler)
1 tbsp plum sauce
1 tsp chili garlic sauce
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
olive oil
salt

I cut the bitter melon in half lengthwise, scooped out its guts, and then put it in a bowl of salt water and let it soak. This helps to remove some of the bitterness. I then took the soy curls and put them in a bowl of water to rehydrate. While the melon and soy curls were both soaking, I minced the garlic and ginger.

When the soy curls were ready, I chopped them into small pieces to facilitate stuffing the melon halves. Then I browned them in a pan for about three minutes. I have started sprinkling Butler’s Chik-Style Seasoning whenever I cook soy curls to give it a more meaty flavor. This is totally optional!

I removed the soy curls from heat, placed them in a bowl, and coated them with the plum sauce, chili garlic sauce, and minced garlic and ginger. While the flavors marinaded for a bit, I got back to my bitter melon halves and rinsed them very well to remove all the salt.

I placed the halves in a baking pan and stuffed them with the soy curl mixture. Then I baked them at 325 degrees in the toaster oven for 10 minutes and raised the temp to 350 for the last five minutes. If you use a regular oven, I would bake them at 350 degrees straight for 15 minutes. You may need to keep it in there longer if you want the bitter melons to be tender. I like my melons with a little crunch.

Oh my goodness. OH MY GOODNESS! This was so delicious. It was sweet, spicy, and subtly bitter. I ate it with some rice, but it’s yummy all on its own. I’m glad to report that this was omnivore-approved. If you don’t have bitter melon, bell peppers would probably make a good substitute.

Let me take a minute to praise Butler Soy Curls. This product has seriously upped my excitement for vegan cooking. You can buy them directly from Butler in bulk or from Vegan Essentials, which is a Turning Veganese favorite.

Soy curls stuffed in bitter melon. Who knew?! Happy eating and experimenting, everyone! –Melissa

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Bitter Melon Salad!

Bitter melon or ampalaya is one of those weird ones, you guys, but I grew up eating it.

Bitter melon is not my favorite thing to eat. In fact, it’s because of its health benefits that I endure its bitter flavor: they don’t call it “bitter” because of its jealousy and resentment. Some of its heath benefits include: lowering insulin (which benefits those with diabetes) and killing bacteria and viruses. It also helps keep the blood clean and improves blood flow which means, for a woman, less painful menstrual cramps. BONUS: My dad grows it in the garden. He’s growing two kinds this year: the darker one that I used in this recipe, and a lighter and longer one shown below.

Christie posted a recipe for pakbet using bitter melon. Today, I’m opting for a simple and raw recipe. I made this when I was visiting Christie and Brent over the weekend. Brent unfortunately could not try it because of an allergy, but I am happy to say that this is Christie-approved!

Bitter Melon Salad

1 bitter melon
1/2 onion, diced
1 medium tomato, diced
salt

First, slice the bitter melon in half, lengthwise. Then, degut it. I used a teaspoon to scoop out the guts.

Slice up the melon, toss it into a bowl, and add 2-3 tbsp of salt. Then add cold water to the bowl and let it soak for about 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, drain and rinse the bitter melon. Toss it into another bowl with the tomato and onion, add salt to taste (I suggest at least a teaspoon), mix it up, and eat it!

I spotted some strawberries in the fridge while the bitter melon was soaking and came up with a wacky idea: bitter melon salad with strawberry and onion!

OMG what a wonderful combination and no salt required! It has this great sweet explosion followed by bitter followed by sweet and the onion ties it all together. YUM YUM YUM.

Don’t be afraid of bitter melon! It has awesome health benefits. Visit the National Bitter Melon Council to learn more. I expect that both Christie and I will offer up more bitter melon recipes. I know I have a lot more to say about the magical ampalaya. In the meantime, be on the lookout and try it if you find it. –Melissa

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Pakbet (AKA Bitter Melon MADNESS!)

I got the recommendation for pinakbet or pakbet from a Sri Lankan colleague who has a fondness for Filipino cuisine. It’s good she’s around or I would have been at a loss for what to do with this ridiculous looking veggie. For pakbet I took some crucial advice from Melissa and my colleague on the preparation. I sliced up the melon, discarded the seeds and salted it and waited for about 20 minutes. There was a lot of liquid that came out of the flesh so I figure it worked… right?

I also assembled the following:
1 eggplant cut into bite-sized pieces
salt
10 whole okra, trimmed
1/2 lb green beans, ends trimmed
1 big toe sized piece of ginger, sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 medium onion, diced
3 medium tomatoes, diced
2 tsp tamari
1 tbsp miso paste
olive oil
salt to taste
I browned the garlic and onion in olive oil. Then I added the tomatoes and cook until soft and then the remaining ingredients.

I cooked the bitter melon separately, sauteing lightly in olive oil with tamari because Brent is allergic to quinine and I don’t want to kill him even though the literature regarding the quinine content of bitter melon is sketchy.

I didn’t cook it long after adding the rest of the ingredients just because I like my veggies crisp and green. I’m weird like that. I added it to mine and found that the sweetness of the beans and onion along with the mellowing tomato and eggplant really complemented the bitterness of the bitter melon. Next time I’ll use white miso paste instead of red and omit the ginger, but otherwise Brent seemed happy with the bitter melon-less version and I’ll be doing this again… just don’t tell Brent.


This is Christie, singing off!

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Adventures in Fruit: Bitter Melon

I found this weirdo at our local market and frankly I’m at a loss. After doing some preliminary reading I’m discovering that this native of Asia is basically the holy grail of bioactive compounds.

The only reason you aren’t seeing it at your vitamin store is that from my first try, it tastes not unlike earwax. Don’t worry: I’ll give it a go but bear with me, people.

This is Christie, signing off.

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Help Wanted: Upo Recipes!

I’ve posted quite a bit about my Dad’s garden this summer and I have really enjoyed it. I am so appreciative of the garden. I can grab basil or mint right when I need it, eggplants go from garden to table in minutes, and it’s kind of amazing to see beans and bitter melon go from nothing to ready-to-eat within a day or two. It’s also been really nice and rewarding for my entire family to be able to share the harvest with our friends.

One of the weirder items that my Dad grows is upo aka bottle gourd aka calabash. Here’s a picture of the plant from about a month ago:

And here’s how it looked yesterday:

The ‘meat’ of upo is quite watery. We use it a lot in soups, or we simply stir-fry it. Either way, it requires flavor. Shrimp or pork are typically cooked with upo. So here is where I ask YOU for your help! Have you cooked upo? What vegan recipes can you share? Upo seems to be used in many different ways by many cultures. I’m looking for a little guidance, and I will gladly blog about whatever recipe(s) I try.

If you have a recipe or idea to share, leave a comment! Thank you!!! –Melissa

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A Salute to Saluyot

I’m extra excited about my Dad’s garden this summer! I have always felt like his garden was really unique because of the weird veggies he grows. I distinctly remember a science project where we had to bring different leaves from around our neighborhood to school. I’m the kid who brought eggplant and bitter melon leaves.

Saluyot is one of the plants that my Dad basically farms every summer.

Saluyot should be cooked; I’ve never eaten it raw or heard of it being prepared raw. It’s slimy when cooked, similar to okra, and will slime-ify the liquid that it’s cooked in. Any online information on the nutritional benefits of saluyot are kind of sketchy, but I can tell you that this plant is good for you along with being filling.

One of the many ways that we prepare saluyot is by cooking it in coconut milk with bamboo shoots.

We usually add shrimp to this, but my Mom set aside a vegan version for me. The bamboo shoots were super fresh so this tasted great — no salt or other embellishment needed. Another dish we recently had with saluyot involved squash, long beans, and eggplant (the first eggplant from our garden this season).

My Mom was the mastermind behind these dishes, so I’m sorry that I don’t have more pics or a real recipe to share. It’s only just begun, though, so you can expect more fresh veggie dishes using items picked from my parents’ backyard!

Are you growing veggies this summer? –Melissa

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